Book Review: Reluctantly Yours

Besties June and Ellie made a pact twenty-five years ago, and now it’s time to see it through: help their grandchildren James and Sarah to fall in love.

Jessica Marie Holt has spread her delicate wings and written her very first rom com. Reluctantly Yours brings us two best friends, bickering grannies who long-ago made a pact to bring their grandchildren together. But first, they have to get the two stubborn adult grandchildren to like each other again. This hilarious story kept me happily entertained and is guaranteed to do the same for you.

My Thoughts About Reluctantly Yours

Growing up, I had one grandmother who kept a spot on the couch for her dog. We couldn’t sit there. She also kissed us on the lips with Dad in the background saying, ‘Mom, stop spreading your germs.’ And she piled National Geographics in the corner for decades. I loved her.

My other Grandmother lives further away and is now in need of help, but when I was younger she made the most amazing baked goods. She also tried to serve us a frozen turkey on Thanksgiving. And certain forms of dry humor soared right over her short, little head. I love her too.

Still, neither of my grandmothers can compare to the quirky, conniving, methods Ellie and June enact, all in the name of love and family. These two hilarious grannies definitely love their grandchildren, and they may, or may not, have their favorites. James and Sarah.

We’ve all been there: friends, sisters, parents, and fate try to set up the perfect, or not-so-perfect couple. My husband and I are the product of a successful set-up ploy. But have you ever considered, the bickering Bettys who’ve been besties for decades and have passed on their loveable, yet stubborn traits to their grandchildren that they want to see get together try? Spats, trips to the veterinarian, coffee, shared meals, more spats. And the kind of acting that usually only happens on stage. Filled with nothing but fun, Reluctantly Yours hits the mark, at least in this book.

Holt brings her wonderful writing skills to the table, showing her ability to cross genres without faltering. Best yet, Reluctantly Yours is the first in the Granny Pact Collection. I can’t wait to see what kind of a scheme these two loveable characters dream up next.

The Official Blurb

Ellie and June have been neighbors and best friends forever. Together, they’ve weathered it all—marriages, babies, strange wardrobe choices, terrible haircuts, small-town gossip—only to have their friendship come out stronger on the other side. 

But now, they’re up against a hurdle unlike any they’ve faced so far.

Unmarried grandchildren. 

Tragically—and inexplicably—James, Ellie’s absolute treasure of a grandson, is single. And so is Sarah, June’s unmatched delight of a granddaughter.

But these Grannies aren’t worried. They have an ace up their sleeve

The Granny Pact.

Yes, these doting grandmas have vowed to engineer the romantic happiness of their grandchildren—by any means necessary. 

Unfortunately, James and Sarah are not that easy to convince. And, unbeknownst to the grannies, their two grandkids share a past that will make their job much, much harder—and might even test the limits of their fifty-year friendship.

More Info

Purchase your copy of Reluctantly Yours on Amazon.

Follow Jessica Marie Holt on Facebook   &  Goodreads & Twitter

I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for this review. All opinion are honest and my own.
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Novella Review: The Visitor

Waiting at home for her husband to return on Christmas Eve, Old Mrs. Langstrum soon finds herself visited by a stranger in The Visitor by Ti Ca.

Waiting at home for her husband to return on Christmas Eve, Old Mrs. Langstrum soon finds herself visited by a stranger in The Visitor by Ti Ca.

Published by Patritus LLC., The Visitor is written by Ti Ca, an author I would love to introduce you to, but whose Amazon biography runs more like an ad for her publisher. The Patritus website states they represent authors who prefer their privacy. Though unusual, I hope both publisher and author the best.

My Thoughts on The Visitor:

At the beginning of The Visitor, we meet Mrs. Langstrum, an old woman who waits for her husband to return from the store with food on Christmas Eve. Through her eyes, we learn the heat is out, probably because of the breaker, and the cabinets are bare. In time, she pulls out a worn note written by her husband instructing her to take two pink pills when she’s hungry. She does so.

At this point, I found myself wondering if I was reading a science fiction novella or if Mrs. Langstrum struggled with some sort of a condition. The Visitor isn’t science fiction.

Mrs. Langstrum opens the door, after hearing a knock, and finds a stranger on her porch. Allowing him in to wait for her husband, the two begin to talk and share their stories.

Much of the book is written in first-person as the characters share various stories but switches to third-person when they are together in the present. Often times, the stories, which overlap throughout the book, come at the start of a chapter and, if you’ve stopped reading for a time, you may struggle to remember who is speaking. This can make the overlapping stories confusing.

The stories deal with several related topics: father and son, husband and wife, depression, uneducated to educated, as well as Mrs. Langstrum and the visiting stranger. Each story leaves you wanting to hear more until they all come together.

I found myself trying to understand the ending, and I’m not sure I got there. Though I like books that make me think, this one left me feeling similarly to how I felt after watching the last episode of LOST.

Still, the writing, vocabulary, and editing are impeccable. I’ve read many indie books that do not come close to Ti Ca’s perfection in these areas.

My suggestion to those interested in reading this novella is to read it in one sitting. Doing so will give you a better shot at following the various storylines.

The official Blurb:

It’s Christmas Eve but the furnace has gone out, the breaker needs to be reset, and the cupboards are empty. As Mrs. Langstrum shivers in her cold, dark house, waiting for her husband to arrive from his quick trip to the store, an impending snowstorm descends in earnest. Realizing her precarious situation, Mrs. Langstrum decides to get help. But who should she ask? Neither the Millners nor the Wylers appear to be home, either caught by the storm or other unforeseen events. Just as she determines to make her way into the town, a knock arrives at her door. It’s a visitor. He’s a stranger, likely a salesman. But before she can shoo him away, he tells her that he has news of her husband.

More Information:

Purchase your copy on Amazon
Visit Patritus LLC

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The Exodus

The Exodus is a fictional short story based on occurrences that took place in Missouri after Governor Lilburn Boggs signed the Extermination Order against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1838.

Elizabeth awoke to the frigid February air funneling into her home through the front door. An unfamiliar hand clamped over her mouth only a second later. Kicking and flailing, she reached for Ezra but failed to find the comfort her fingertips sought. Hot breath, wreaking of stale beer and tobacco, stung her nose as muscled arms dragged and then thrust her outside,  her hands and knees sinking into the snow. Beside her, her three young children fell.

“Ma?” Peter picked up his two-year-old sister and helped Elizabeth up. “Where’s Pa?”

Heartache set aside, Elizabeth grabbed the hands of her two children, trusting Peter to carry Clara, and ran for the darkened path leading from their property to the Beckers’. “Run, hurry!”

She and the children shivered as the night air whipped through thin clothes and the six-inch snow crunched under bare feet.

“Pa!” Emily cried great racking sobs as the sound of gunfire ignited her senses further.

Warm amber light soon reflected off the glistening ice, and the mob’s horses galloped from the scene.

“Pa.” Peter turned, running toward the glow, chest heaving, and Clara bouncing in his arms as tears flowed freely from everyone’s eyes. Slowed by the toddler he carried, Elizabeth caught him by the arm.

“Take your sisters and go to the Beckers’. I’ll see to Pa.” She stared into the eyes of her oldest, lit by the blazing house, barn, and night sky. “Don’t stop, just run. And don’t let go of your sisters.”

Peter nodded.

The Beckers’ house lay several miles to the north—the only family they could trust since the order for their religious group to leave the state had been given. The others were mostly gone. Rescuers from the neighboring state helped gather families and get them to safety—oxen, horses, and cows often driven to the brink of death. Carts overflowed with the few belongings people grabbed. Others fled with nothing. She and Ezra had planned to leave the next morning. Their meager cart now burned with the barn.

Step by agonizing step, Elizabeth found her way back to their homestead. Wind pricked at her frozen skin through her nightgown. Eyes watered not only from tears but from the cold, bristling air that surrounded her. Feet numb, she picked up her skirt and ran.

Swift legs carried her toward her goal. Refusing to consider Ezra’s death, she considered only the life ahead of them. Thousands of now destitute people migrated from settlements they’d once called home to the neighboring state. People—friends—slept in the yards of rescuers with hardly a blanket for warmth. But they had food. They would rebuild, she and Ezra together.

Inconsistent breaths entered and exited Elizabeth’s lungs as she careened around the house, knees landing in the melting snow next to Ezra. “Please Ezra.”

His eyes found hers. “Help.”

She gazed at his shoulder, blood oozing from the wound. “How? What do I do?” The words stung the tip of her tongue.

“My shirt, Elizabeth, help.” Ezra tried to sit up but fell back into the snow. The melting patterns proved it was not his first attempt.

“You’ll freeze.” Elizabeth removed her undergarment and pushed the waded drawers over her husband’s wound.

“Help me stand.”

Arms around her husband, she pushed, pulled, and lifted until he wavered on his feet instead of the ground. The paleness of his face brought her rushing to support him better.

“Where are the children?”

Tears welled in Elizabeth’s eyes as she prayed continuously for their young children. How had she left them alone in the dark?

“I sent them to the Beckers’.”

“They’ll make it. The Lord will see us through.”

Following her earlier footsteps, Elizabeth led her dying husband toward the Beckers’ home. His shivering weighted his body, each movement a struggle for both him and her. The full moon rose higher in the sky, lighting the bloody footprints of their children. They added their own as a testament of their persecution.

How had people come to hate them so much? They wished only to worship God as they desired—a right given through the Constitution but forgotten by mob and government. Hate legalized the extermination of human beings because of their religious beliefs. Though given until spring, no one stopped those who hunted early. Guards stood to keep them from food and warmth, not as protection. Only those leaving were permitted to pass.

Ezra fell to his knees and clasped her hands, his teeth chattering. “Go.”

She fell beside him, holding him in her arms. “I can’t leave you, Ezra.” Blood seeped from under his hand to her nightdress as they embraced.

“Go.”

Refusing, she wrapped her arms around him. “They’ll come. Someone will come.”

Moving behind him, she pulled him against her bosom, helping him to sit. She pushed her hand against his, her soaked drawers dripping blood down his nightshirt. His eyelids fluttered as he complained about the heat, a sign of hypothermia.

“Stay awake, Ezra.”

Pushing him forward and lifting him up, she raised him to his feet. He tried to fight her, to refuse, but her strength overpowered him. “You’ll walk or I’ll drag you!”

He shuffled his foot forward.

“You can’t die. Not today, Ezra. We’ve too much to do. I don’t build houses, and I can’t raise that boy without you. Take a step.”

He eased his foot forward again.

Elizabeth rubbed her own frozen hands down his arms, attempting to warm him. The sound of wagon wheels and horses broke through the deadly wind, whipping past her ears. Don waved his arms, calling lost words to them.

Needling breaths entered Elizabeth’s lungs, a wan smile crossing her lips. “They’re here.”

They fell to their knees; she supported her husband even then.

Jumping from their seats, Don and David Becker lifted Ezra into the buckboard, where blankets lay atop straw. Wrapping him tightly in a quilt, Don eased Ezra’s hand from the wound and packed it with clean cloths. “A miracle you’re alive.”

Elizabeth, helped into the wagon by David, curled into a blanket next to her husband as their friends layered three more on top of them.

“You should be proud of Peter, Elizabeth. He got your two girls to us before collapsing himself. The three of them are wrapped up warm. Mary’s tending to their feet now.” David said, then looked at his son. “Don, we need to leave tomorrow.”

“But…” With Elizabeth’s strength depleted, her teary eyes shifted between the father and son. “Ezra.”

Her husband still shivered next to her.

“He can ride in the wagon if you and your children will pull a cart.”

She nodded.

“Mary’s got clothes for you—and your boy and girls too. I’ve some leather strips for your feet. Wish we had more to give.”

“People have given less.” She said softly.

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A Christmas Prayer

With Bria gone, Christmas dulled my life, but then I discovered she still lit everything around me.

Loosely based on a true story. A Christmas Prayer remembers grief while celebrating life.

A Christmas Prayer is loosely based on a true story.

A Christmas Prayer

The blaring beep from my alarm sent waves of stress through my body, and I slammed my hand against the off button. My pillow soon dampened as sobbing wails found themselves lost in its fluff. No one should expect me to get out of bed, not today. Not this month.

“Why Christmas?” The words slipped past my lips though no one listened. Lights and baubles, reindeer songs, and happy wishes adorned the world outside. Everyone else forgot. Not me. I couldn’t. With only dry laments remaining, I crawled from my bed and sank to the floor.

Slurred words and stumbled steps filled my memory. Bria had left her bedroom expecting an exhilarating Christmas only to find herself rushed to the hospital instead. We lived a nightmare that day.

Pulling myself from the rug, I dressed without worry of what I wore and staggered to my car. With the steering wheel in my hands, I repeated the same mantra I had for several weeks: work will force my mind to other things. I never believed the lie.

At work, happy faces blurred as I walked past co-workers. I bowed my head and clutched my purse. Smiling hurt when my sincerity failed.

Bria always knew when I faked smiling. She would never have forgiven my sallow behavior. The year I lost my job, she forced me through the front door and down the street. Pointing at every light we passed, she’d mentioned something that made her happy. Then, after a block, she looked at me.

“Your turn Mom.”

I shook my head and backed away. “We should go home.”

“Not until I see you smile.”

My lips parted and I flashed my teeth at her. It probably looked like a grimacing growl. “There.”

She rolled her eyes. “Nice try. Look,” she pointed, “what do the lights on that house remind you of?”

“I don’t know… The electric bill I can’t afford.”

Her head flung back and she stared at the sky. “M-o-o-m.”

“Okay.” I stomped my cold feet. “It reminds me of…tucking you in at night.”

“That’s better.”

A few houses away, I pulled her into a hug, a genuine grin on my face. “Bria, I’ll forever be happy as long as I have you.”

“I still expect a big Christmas gift.”

A snort escaped me but was accompanied by a smile. “I’ll get right on that.”

“Good. And I suppose I can give up cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate for breakfast.” She nudged me with her shoulder. “But don’t burn the oatmeal, okay?”

The office relaxed through the holidays, and once the party started, I slipped out. I might not get away from all the celebration, but I wouldn’t ignore the presented escape either. Leaving my car in the lot, I walked down the street. My fingers reddened in the cold breeze, and I slipped my gloves from my jacket pocket.

The city always set up an ice rink in the winter. It was right around the corner. Ice skating was Bria's favorite winter activity. As she and her friends got older, they went without parents, but Bria still found time to drag me onto that ice. She twirled and skated. I shuffled and fell.

People said the pain would wane. They were wrong. I missed her more each day.

Recent snow lined the walks, and I listened to it crunch under my shoes as I passed the rink. The local churches had set up nativities under the picnic ramada for the week, and a vendor cart with warm drinks greeted people at the park’s entrance. I joined the queue.

My eyes fell on a young girl dressed in a worn coat dancing in the distance. Her long ponytails swirled behind her with every graceful pirouette she made. The woman with her heartily applauded. She could only be the girl’s mother. With a drink in my hand, I found a bench and sat, captivated. How many times had I watched Bria the same way? My eyes burned and I blinked rapidly, then followed the crowd of people toward the nativities.

A year of pent-up anger surged within me, and I clung to it with all my might. How could I celebrate without Bria? God could have stopped it. She would still be with me if He’d allowed it. But He hadn’t.

Blinking no longer satiated the burning in my eyes. I swept tears away with my gloved hand, then stilled as a quiet voice spoke in my mind. Listen.

I stepped down the aisle, gazing at the various nativities. Porcelain. Wood. Some were Precious Moments. One was Peanuts—Woodstock played the Christ child.

Listen.

I tried but heard nothing.

I took another step.

Listen.

The crowd buzzed quietly among separate groups. I waited.

“Why?” a young voice asked.

“We can’t afford it this year,” an older voice answered.

“But we always have a tree.”

I spun. The same mother and daughter I had seen before stood near the nativity behind me.

“I want one too.” The mom bent down, holding her daughter’s shoulders. “What if we take old boxes, color them green, and make a tree?”

Bria would have loved that.

The girl bounced on her feet. “Okay. Can I color ornaments on it too?”
“That’s a great idea!”

As they passed, the girl met my eyes and smiled. I smiled back—not a fake smile—a sincere one. A warmth surrounded my heart, and I reached for the mother’s arm. She turned.

“I heard your conversation.” My fingers dug through my purse. “Something told me to listen. I think God placed you in my life today.” Money slipped from my hand to hers, my chin trembling. “My daughter died on Christmas day last year from a brain aneurysm. She still lights up my life when I let the happiness in. Please buy a tree.” I bowed my head. “But will you do one thing for me?”

The mother’s eyes glistened. “I can’t take this.”

“You can. It means everything to me. Please.”

She nodded and squeezed her daughter’s hand.

“One thing, though. Buy an angel ornament, too, and hang it on the tree.” I tilted my head as my face crumpled. “Say a little prayer for my Bria.”

The mother reached her hand toward mine. “We will. Thank you.”

As I headed toward the office parking lot, I smiled sincerely for the second time. “God, please send me a family to help every Christmas. Bria would like that.”

Read more short Christmas stories on kameomonson.com, where you can also download your free copy of Sometimes a Bird has to Fly.

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Flash Fiction: Broken Daisies

Flash Fiction: Broken Daisies
Photo by Albert Bridge

The worn welt curved around the edges of my suitcase, threatening to pop from the seams as the zipper stretched to accommodate the overflowing clothing. Muttered vengeful words never reached my ears, but I understood them. My lips spit them out. No matter what I tried, nothing changed. Old houses only got older, cars broke down, jobs disappeared, and bank accounts stayed empty. Just once I wanted to run my dishwasher without washing the dishes first or order a pizza because it sounded good. Instead, I mopped up kids’ barf and scrubbed bathrooms only to return home and do the same for my family. Rob slept through the night and most mornings. The rest of the time he slumped at the computer looking for work.

I stopped in the bathroom and gathered other necessities. Toothbrush, makeup, deodorant. Beard trimmings speckled the sink. How hard was it to get rid of beard trimmings? I reached over and turned on the leaky faucet, splashing water over the top of the stiff hairs. The drain gurgled as it worked to keep up with the flow. Questioning what I was doing, I shut the water off—as best as I could, anyway—and left my suitcase by the front door.

My sneakers lifted from a sticky spot on the floor and squelched the rest of the way into the kitchen. I’d dropped the kids off at Mom’s earlier. Vacation. That’s what they called it. I hadn’t told them my plans yet. I hadn’t told Rob, but I was about to. The quiet of the house sent eerie tingles down my spine, reminding me how much I hated it.

As I walked past the corner of the counter, a crashing sound caught my attention. A broken glass covered in painted white daisies met my gaze. My elbow had knocked it off. Slowly squatting near the fragmented mess, the first tear traced the side of my cheek. The last glass—the others had broken years before. Somehow it seemed fitting that it would break today. Still, I cried.
I’d placed the glassware on our wedding registry ten years ago, hoping some kind soul would take pity on me and give something other than the standard clear Walmart specials sold for $8.99. Opening that wrapped package brought me almost as much joy as marrying Rob.

Picking up the largest shard, I gently rubbed my forefinger over the daisy design. I never thought daisies were pretty. Their basic petals and yellow centers dotted children’s drawings and their leaves reminded me of overgrown cilantro. So many times I’d dreamed of beautiful flowers with unique petals and vivid colors. Orchids, lilies, hibiscus, they all bloomed in so many varieties, but daisies invaded lawns. Then Rob gave me daisies when he proposed. Daisies—not roses—simple daisies. Suddenly my whole outlook had changed.

I clutched the shard to my chest and wept as I remembered his knit brows and how his lips had trembled. Down on one knee, his eyes glistened and his voice cracked when he eased the words will you marry me from his tongue. It was months later when he told me about the rock piercing his kneecap. All that time I thought he’d been trying not to cry.

A corner of my mouth threatened to turn up at the memory, but as I looked at the painted remnant in my hand, the tears returned, and I sank further to the floor. That day daisies had become my favorite flower. It wasn’t a distaste in cheap wares that caused me to register for the glasses. Not really.

Two kids and five years into our marriage, I screamed at Rob for his laziness. Why couldn’t he keep a job? Struggling as newlyweds was one thing, but we had two children. In my anger, I’d picked up the closest thing and threw it at the wall, intentionally missing him. The first glass. He held me in his arms as I realized what I’d thrown. Hair tickled my cheek as he brushed it away from my face, comforting me by pulling me closer. Promises of better jobs and a house with new carpeting filled my ears. My anger died when I saw what I’d thrown, but he didn’t need to know that.

A few years later, I told Rob why daisies were my favorite flower, including how I’d never liked them previously. Less than a week afterward, Rob purchased a bouquet of beautiful pink lollipop daisies and enlisted our daughter Emma’s help. The flowered glass slipped from her hands as she filled it with water. After cleaning up the mess, Rob filled the next one. I’d never seen such a beautiful sight as my smiling daughter standing next to her father as they presented me with the gift.

Though I tried to drop the shard to the floor and stand to tell Rob of my plans, my body refused. Tears spotted my blouse, and a small puddle formed on the floor, but only stains lined my cheeks now.

Warm hands rubbed at my shoulders, and I reached up, clutching one. “I broke the last one.”

“Are you sure about that?” His soft voice comforted me. But I had a plan…

“Yeah. I remember two others breaking, and the third disappeared years ago.”

“Disappeared where?”

I shrugged. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t remember. “I should have put this one up.”

“Wait here.”

Rob disappeared, and emptiness surrounded me as I stared at the glass, heaviness returning to my body. Shuffling noise echoed from the hallway, but nothing seemed important anymore.

“Christy?”

My eyes lifted as they fell on the item Rob held before me. “Where?”

He pulled me to my feet and held me in his arms. “I put one away for safekeeping.”

“You…?” My words faded.

“I know you love them.” He loosened his hold on me and glanced toward the door. “Are you going somewhere?”

“What? No. I-I thought I might, but I’ve changed my mind.”

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